You may not approve of everything Jeff Bezos does, but there's a lot to learn from his response to the current protests over the death of George Floyd. Both Bezos and Amazon have delivered well thought out and unambiguous messages. In contrast, statements from other corporate leaders have been mealy-mouthed, meaningless, and sometimes impetuous. If you're thinking of taking a public stand during this troubled time, it's worth looking at Bezos's and Amazon's statements to see how to do it right.
Amazon has received intense criticism for how it treats warehouse workers and those who deliver its products -- and in particular its dismissal of a black employee who organized a walkout at a Staten Island warehouse. The company has also used its size and power to bully competitors, sellers, and even entire cities, as it did during its much-maligned, and ultimately misleading search for "HQ2."
But there's a lot to admire in Bezos's handling of the current social unrest.
1. Amazon's statement is well thought out and very clear.
At controversial times like these, corporate America relies on a tool that has served it well over decades, if not centuries -- vagueness. Companies from Target to Microsoft have lamented the current discord and made liberal use of words like "pain" and "coming together," often expressing grief over the loss of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others killed by police officers without actually saying how they died.
Amazon is the only major company I can find to put the phrase "Black Lives Matter" front and center on its home page. That banner links to a post that begins, "The inequitable and brutal treatment of Black and African Americans is unacceptable," and goes on to say that the company is donating $10 million to organizations -- including Black Lives Matter -- chosen with the help of its black employees' organization.
2. Bezos calls out a customer for racism.
Bezos grabbed some headlines this week for an Instagram post featuring a screen shot of a highly profane email he received from a customer. That email expressed unhappiness with the Black Lives Matter banner. It contained the sort of vitriolic racism that many white people can sometimes forget exists. "This sort of hate shouldn't be allowed to hide in the shadows," Bezos wrote before adding, perhaps unnecessarily, "You're the kind of customer I'm happy to lose."
3. But he answers more reasoned arguments as well.
Less headline-worthy but just as telling, he posted a response to a different customer last week who wrote, "I am for everyone voicing their opinions and standing up for what you believe in, but for your company to blast this on your website is very offensive to me and I'm sure you'll be hearing from others. ALL LIVES MATTER!"
"'Black lives matter' doesn't mean other lives don't matter," Bezos wrote. "I have a 20-year-old son, and I simply don't worry that he might be choked to death while being detained one day. It's not something I worry about. Black parents can't say the same."
Maybe best of all, Bezos used his Instagram profile to link to a powerful essay by journalist Shenequa Golding titled "Black Professionals Are Going Through a Lot" which argues that it's wrong to expect dispassionate professionalism from black employees in times like these.
Bezos came out against racism, but that's the easy part. That's something nearly every corporate leader has done. But he's also added to the conversation in a thoughtful, intelligent, and personal way. More business owners should do the same.